Wexford’s Eurovelo Route, Observations from a Cyclist
by Kevin Cronin
Wexford is in a league of its own: blessed with sunshine, above average weather, glistening coastlines and countless strands, the moody Slaney bisecting its fertile farmlands, the muscular Blackstairs Mountains guarding its northern flanks, and Hook Head, graveyard to a thousand shipwrecks, bastion to its southern beaches.
In June 2017, a stage of the European Cycle Route known as the EuroVelo was opened right here on my doorstep in Wexford. A 120km newly signposted and mainly on-road cycle route. This route is an official part of the EuroVelo 1 Cycle Route, which is part of the European Cycle Network (www.eurovelo.com). What a wonderful initiative!
So, during a spell of fine weather in July 2019 I completed the Wexford EuroVelo Route, starting in the village of Kilrane near Rosslare Harbour and cycling to Ballyhack at the other end of the Route. I had completed it many times from various angles but never as a complete unit and never with the eye of a visitor or touring cyclist.
This cycle ranged from the very pleasant right through to the truly stunning. It is without doubt a cycle route of immense potential, having spectacular beauty, culture, history, and constant unfolding interest. It brought me to some lovely parts of the South Wexford coast. I found the route to be well suitable for cycle touring. The road surfaces were generally adequate for cycling a standard road/touring bike and in some parts of good quality but there were also some very rough poorly maintained kilometres. Hopefully, and shortly, these will be repaired.
The route is 120Km in total and has very little climbing (789m over 120 km), potentially making it accessible to a very broad range of bicycle users. It is an uncrowded space. Ideal for the cyclist seeking space, calm and beauty.
Signage and Route Finding
From the start the route was, for the most part, well signposted. While many of you would have the route uploaded to your phones or sat navs, on this occasion I chose to travel without digital aids. I did not get lost.
I started my cycle in Kilrane, just west of Rosslare Harbour. This is the first and very significant change of direction. Kilrane can frequently be very busy with ferry traffic and there are a lot of other road signs. The turn for the EuroVelo sign needs a bit of searching out but this was the only one with which I had trouble. After that the signs were easy to follow when I grew accustomed to it. The EuroVelo signs have as a constant companion the Norman Way signs which coincidentally is almost a mirror image of the EuroVelo for much of its length. They both form a wonderful symbiosis as this cycle brings you through a thousand years of history in just over a hundred kilometers. That’s something really very special.
Stage 1 – Kilrane to Our Ladys Island and Kilmore Quay
This first stretch is really the opening scene, the warmup in every respect. Once Kilrane is left behind life becomes a little quieter, with the gentle pace of cycling and the joys of hedgerows and the constantly changing vista. You are in flat coastal terrain, good farmland mixed with ancient history and infrastructures. To get a full measure of the scale of the history in this area please visit the ‘Norman Way’ routes, guidelines, and information available on this website. For those with an interest in history, this cycling route brings you into a whole other dimension.
You arrive shortly to Our Lady’s Island, a place of pilgrimage, beautiful lakes, and nearby spectacular coast. Take a short walk around the island and explore its ecclesiastical history and if the day and time permits buy an ice cream cone at the local shop and enjoy.
It’s at this point that if I could reimagine the EuroVelo route or add a loop to it – I would do it now, well a few times really but this would be the first. Because it is a real pity not to explore nearby Carnsore Point and its beautiful beaches of Carne, St Margaret’s and Ballytrent. All these are within an easy cycle just south-east of Our Lady’s Island. Carnsore Point is a spectacular landmark, notable now for its 14 huge wind turbines. It could however have been much worse as it was earmarked to be the first Irish Nuclear Power Station in the Seventies. People power prevailed (more history) and we got windmills instead. This detour and the nearby beaches are a must if you wish to add value to your EuroVelo journey.
So back to Our Lady’s Island, you have definitely earned that ice cream now! And onwards towards Kilmore Quay. This is a lovely cycle, well signed along beautiful country roads. You’re heading west, the coast and Tacumshin Lake to your left, the sun on your face and the Blackstairs away in the distance to your right. It’s a quiet contemplative part of your journey with hedgerows, farmland, beautiful skyscapes, and birdsong. The roads are generally good quality as you zig zag your way towards the busy fishing village of Kilmore Quay.
I really love Kilmore Quay. The light, the colour, the cottages, the sea smell, the Saltees, the beaches, the birds, the Burrow, the boats, a pint (if you’re staying over) and oh, those chips. And so much more. I will never know how it hasn’t become a tourist capitol of Ireland, but it hasn’t and I’m really secretly glad. Stay and explore. It does not disappoint.
Stage 2 – Kilmore Quay to Fethard-On-Sea
Now we start putting meat on the bones. You need your cycle legs here. Its flat, and a prevailing breeze can make it ‘interesting’. In any event it’s a really lovely pedal. Quiet roads in good condition, lovely villages and constantly changing scenery and stimulation. It is greater than the sum of its parts. I cycle these roads in all seasons and in all weathers and never tire of it. Search out fine coffee and music in Carrig-on-Bannow village, both are worth looking for.
A detour to the gorgeous Cullenstown Strand looping around the Bannow peninsula to the stunning ancient Church on Bannow Island via Blackhall Strand will take you through some really lovely roads. It’s only a short detour off the signposted route but well worth the effort.
Then on to Wellington Bridge along the seawall of Bannow Estuary. So beautiful.
Now, if you are camping or need a shop it’s worth noting that Wellington Bridge is a busy and thriving commercial village serving a large population of South West Wexford, with a top quality supermarket, chemist, petrol station, hardware store and much more. It is also set to become shortly a hub for the Rosslare-Waterford Greenway as the old railway winds through it. I hope this happens. Such truly marvellous potential. And a great companion to the EuroVelo.
Leaving Wellington Bridge the route loops northwards to Rosegarland and around to Taylorstown and then back to the Duncannon line (R733). It’s a pleasant spin but I feel it adds little of quality to the EuroVelo and is the only low point for me. But once it crosses the Duncannon line (R733) and heads southwest towards Saltmills, everything changes and you’re back in five-star cycle touring….and probably the only really serious hills in your journey. I love hills but they’re not for everyone. So, if they’re a little too steep for you dismount and enjoy a short walk. No one will see you!
I have brought friends and family on these roads to Fethard-on-Sea, and beyond, on many occasions and without fail it never ceases to impress. The Route takes you into Tintern Abbey (an inspired detour by the designers) it is a real highlight and must not be missed, do a tour, have a coffee, and don’t miss the spectacular Colclough Walled Garden. The whole place abounds with culture, history, leisure and stunning scenery. It’s hard to leave but more awaits as you head into Fethard-on-Sea, a village that is doing a lot to welcome visitors and is well worth exploring. Visit the little fishing pier (Fethard Quay) just east of the village and certainly explore Baginbun Head and Petits Bay, the area where the Normans landed in 1169.
Stage 3 – Fethard-On-Sea to Ballyhack
And now the cycle legs are tested once again as you point towards what can only be the highlight of this wonderful Irish EuroVelo. Hook Head. With its magnificent lighthouse (reputed to be one of the oldest in the world), the hauntingly beautiful Loftus Hall, Slade fishing village and so much more. Space does not permit me a description of the real beauty of this peninsula but it is awesome in every sense. It’s history, it’s 360 degrees of scenery, it’s shoreline, it’s geology and nature, its ancient buildings and farms, and some truly excellent cycling roads. You could spend a day idling your time away here or even a lifetime. Both would be well spent. Just don’t miss it. It’s an extraordinary cycle, with so much to see and do. I keep going there and then keep going back.
As the miles get into your legs, you eventually arrive to Duncannon with its beautiful beach, historic fort and some great places to stop and eat. Duncannon is quite rightly a very popular holiday destination. It is perfectly poised as a link between Wexford to Waterford, and you can get a glimpse the Comeragh Mountains and Dunmore East across the five kilometres of sometimes treacherous estuary. But first you must cycle the last worthwhile few kilometres of this amazing EuroVelo, bringing you to Arthurstown and then to the end of the road, quite literally, in Ballyhack.
You will by now have completed one of the very finest road cycles Ireland has to offer. And that is in reality a very high bar. You will also have completed the only section of EuroVelo in this country. But much more than all of that you will have opened the door, stepped in and experienced the true feeling to one of Ireland’s greatest and unsung secrets- the truly beautiful South Wexford coast. Well done.
About the Author
Cyclist, mountaineer, walker and lover of the outdoors, Kevin runs the company bikenhike, organising cycling and walking tours across Ireland and especially in his home county of Wexford.
Kevni can be contacted at 086 817 3458 for further information on bikenhike.